Many years ago I had the honor of representing Inner City Broadcasting, owner of WBLS and WLIB radio, and at that time, also owner of The Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem. Back then, Harlem was going through the beginning of what would become a neighborhood renaissance. It was an exciting time, with commerce moving into the area, and a renewed sense of pride and purpose in the neighborhood.
The Apollo Theatre, once the showplace of Harlem, was sparkling once again as Amateur Night reinvented itself every Wednesday with the Legendary MC Ralph Cooper at the helm, and the incomparable ”Sandman” shooing bad acts off the stage with a dance and a shuffle and “the hook.”
My client at Inner City was the Honorable Percy Ellis Sutton, but my daily contact was his nephew, Chuck Sutton, who passed away February 19th after a valiant fight with cancer.
Chuck was a remarkable man, even to a PR agent like me who was concerned mainly with bringing in the hits. In the same conversation Chuck would tell me about the week’s upcoming talent at The Apollo, fill me in on his plan to “Jump the Broom” at his wedding, talk to me about community action in his neighborhood, go over details for his creation – “Showtime at the Apollo,” and rave about his son and the birth of his daughter Amena. In an age before blackberries and text messages, it was challenging to get a callback from Chuck; because the guy never stood still.
On Monday, Chuck’s life was celebrated at Riverside Church in Manhattan. The Honorable David Patterson said that without Chuck, he never would have entered public life, and never would have been Governor of New York. Mayor David Dinkins spoke of him as a quiet activist, a tremendous advocate and environmentalist for the Harlem community, a good friend and a devoted family man.
The Reverend Al Sharpton took the redeye from California and almost missed the service because of a record snowstorm in the North East. In his eulogy, Reverend Sharpton talked about how Chuck had worked his dash…that hyphen between the year of his birth and the year of his death 1950 – 2009. I had heard this reference to the dash before, but this time, it really resonated with me. Standing in front of the congregation, the outspoken and often controversial Reverend Sharpton said that Chuck lived an exemplary life of service, and had worked his dash to the fullest. Then he turned to the congregation and said: “After the fancy cars and big houses and beautiful clothes fall away, what are YOU doing to work YOUR dash?”
It was still snowing when I left the church. I recognized some of the pallbearers, and was amazed to see Amena all grown up.
I said farewell to Chuck, and thanked him for being such a good, great man and for sharing in some of my memories, and I thanked Reverend Sharpton, for the wakeup call.